Mar 1 2008

Truth in Advertising ‘a Business Disaster’

Most “fear and favor” shown by media outlets takes the form of slanted or incomplete news coverage. But media companies’ zeal to please the advertisers, who are, after all, their main client, goes beyond covering news to making it.

In 2007, congressional debate on a big Food and Drug Administration bill touched on pharmaceutical ads, a fast-growing source of media revenue. As recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, an early draft of the bill would have given the FDA the power to impose a moratorium on consumer advertising for a drug that had serious safety concerns. That provision was dropped from the final bill, reported the Wall Street Journal (9/21/07)—not so much due to drug companies’ efforts, but to those of media lobbying groups like the National Association of Broadcasters, who “swung into action,” sensing regulation of drug ads to be “a business disaster in the making.”

The lobby solicited testimony from legal scholars and others stating that the moratorium would violate the First Amendment and restrict the public’s “right to know.” As the Journal reported:

The messages were conveyed through a campaign of visits, letters and calls to key lawmakers from advertising firms and broadcasters, as well as other media companies. Many members of Congress heard from media interests in their home districts, according to lobbyists and congressional staffers.

This is not an effort the NAB has made with regard to, say, Pentagon restrictions on reporters covering